Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fairly Straightforward

The rigid formalism of the AAMD/AAM position on deaccessioning (sales to buy more art -- totally fine, knock yourself out; sales for any and all other reasons -- repulsive) leads its defenders to say some odd-sounding things, at least to my ear. Here's an example, from a story in the Newark Star-Ledger yesterday entitled "Sale of art linked to financial woes by Montclair museum sparks debate." AAM president Ford Bell is quoted as saying:

"It is fairly straightforward. Museums have a lot of stuff in their basements that they don't use. You don't want to be caring for and conserving objects and collections that aren't central to your mission. But it is not acceptable to sell parts of your collection in order to pay the bills."

What's great about this quote is that it perfectly encapsulates the internal inconsistency of the AAM's position. It starts off by talking down the works that museums sell in order to buy more art: it's stuff museums don't use, that isn't central to the museum's mission, valuable resources are being wasted caring for and conserving them. It's in the basement, for chrissakes. But then -- in the very same breath -- comes The Pivot. All of a sudden it is "unacceptable" to sell this same superfluous, basement-residing stuff -- for any purpose, no matter how worthy. (Notice how, in Bell's quote, it's just "stuff" when it's being sold to acquire other art, but it gets promoted to "parts of your collection" when it's being sold for other reasons.)

There's another amusing quote in the same article, this one from Montclair director Lora Urbanelli:

"Urbanelli said the museum is accelerating the pace of the deaccessionings to take advantage of the art market. 'The market might be down overall but certain areas are strong. Some sales may be better now than next year. Next year might be tougher,' she said" (my emphasis).

Really? They decided now is the time to take advantage of the art market? That's an interesting approach.